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There’s no specific test to identify ARDS. Patients with ARDS will have rapid onset of shortness of breath and very low oxygen levels in the blood. The diagnosis is based on the physical exam, chest X-ray and measurement of your oxygen levels. It’s also important to rule out other diseases and conditions — for example, certain heart problems — that can produce similar symptoms. Your doctor might perform specific tests to rule out a heart problem.


  • Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can show which parts of your lungs, and how much of the lungs, have fluid and inflammation in them.
  • Computer Assisted Tomography (CAT) Scan: This scan combines X-ray images taken from many different directions into cross-sectional views of internal organs. CT scans can provide detailed information about the structures within the heart and lungs.

Lab Tests

A test using blood from an artery in your wrist can measure your oxygen level. Other types of blood tests can check for signs of infection or anemia. If your doctor suspects you have a lung infection, he or she might test secretions from your airway to find the cause of the infection.